So you’ve been in this relationship for a minute. Things are going pretty well — you enjoy each other’s company still, you laugh all the time and your sex life hasn’t evaporated. But is that enough?
It’s hard to know. I speak for myself when I say that I struggle to figure out what “normal” looks like in a healthy long term relationship. A single mom who married for the first time once I was in my 20s raised me; there was no example of a relationship in my home, period. My grandparents undoubtedly had love between them, but they didn’t have what most would consider to be a crazy strong marriage. And I think that’s more common than not. Without relationship role models to point to (beside Coach and Tammy Taylor), how do you know if this is the real thing or just something livable that will eventually expire over time?
It’s also normal to doubt your own luck. Is it possible that you’ve actually met someone who likes you for who you are and isn’t a secret psychopath? What are the odds that you, of all people, would find success and happiness in love? Would you even be capable of recognizing success and love if you were lucky enough to find it? Maybe you’re just deluding yourself, desperate to make it work. Or maybe you really did hit the jackpot.
I’m far from an expert on this subject myself, but after spending over a year with someone I truly believe is a soul mate of mine, I have figured out that there are a few things to look out for when questioning the sustainability of your relationship.
1. YOU FIGHT RESPONSIBLY
Couples fight. This is the number one thing I wish I had a better understanding of like, in general. I hate fighting, it freaks me out, I can’t handle anyone being mad at me and my immediate instinct when faced with conflict is to break—do whatever I have to do to make it right again. That’s bad. That’s something that I’ve had to spend a lot of time in therapy talking about because hon? You spend enough time with anybody, let alone someone that you’re emotionally/physically intimate with and with whom you make a variety of major decisions; you’re going to fight. Sometimes one of you is tired, sometimes one of you is actually trying to communicate hurt but it comes out in the form of irrational anger. Sometimes you’re just going to want something your way. The fighting itself is not the problem. It’s all about the execution. If the two of you can get into a spat and manage to keep it from getting ugly, you’re doing it right. Fighting is normal. Healthy even. Name-calling, throwing things in each other’s faces, getting physical and bringing in other parties (besides like, a relationship counselor) is not.
2. YOU COMMUNICATE FIRST
Once your dating has gone from casual to serious, it’s important that you treat your partner like your other half. When making decisions that could have an effect on their night/weekend/life, it should feel natural to run these thoughts past your guy or girl. I’m not saying that you have to call your significant other for permission to spend your own money or approve your brunch order, but if you decide to go out and get bombed with your friends on Friday, you might want to consider how that’ll effect your Saturday morning with your guy or girl and just run it by them. Think of how pissed you’d be if you woke up Satty AM sans-hangover, ready to kick off your weekend and the person who was supposed to be there next to you was a hung over grey lump incapable of doing more than watching a COPS marathon. Basically, if you’re about to make a move in your life and it naturally occurs to you to include your partner in the conversation, you’ve got the right attitude re: sharing a life with someone.
3. MONEY AIN’T A THANG
Money is always going to be a thing. It makes the world go round, we all kill ourselves trying to make enough of it to live the lifestyle we desire. But if you think of the top three issues that stand between you and your boyfriend/girlfriend and “money” is one of them, there’s probably a disconnect in your values. I’ve had the fortune of being both 100% financially stable and borderline broke during my current relationship and my main take away is that, while it would be stressful, our paychecks could be the first thing that go. We’ve both been in the position of having a lot then having very little and while it’s personally emotionally taxing at times, we both have a pretty good grip on the fact that a number on an ATM receipt will never make you happy. It’s nice that we can toss a little cash at weekend getaways and good meals, but if the two of us were stuck driving the same cars for 15 years and considering Bagel Bites a splurge, I’d still love the shit out of that motherfucker.
4. YOU MAKE EACH OTHER LAUGH
This is so fucking important. My mom once said to me, “Molly, never marry a man that doesn’t get your jokes,” and it might be the most important piece of advice she’s ever given me. It’s true! What a long, miserable life that would be if you felt like you had to explain why you were laughing at something or being made to feel like you were immature or weird because of your sense of humor. Plus, life blows. There are a lot of unfortunate things that happen and you need someone who can laugh about it with you. If the two of you aren’t hysterical as you pull out of the parking lot of the worst hotel you’ve ever stepped foot in, good luck. You’re going to need it.
5. YOU WORSHIP EACH OTHER EQUALLY
Here’s why Ice-T and Coco are so good: While Ice-T could absolutely marry a “yes woman” who’s going to lick his balls every second of the day and completely abandon her own passions and interests to help facilitate his, he didn’t. He married a woman with a personality as big as her ass. Coco has her own thing going on, she’s a star in her own right and while she’s obviously in love with her husband, she’s not under his spell. If anything, Ice might be even more blown away by her, and that’s not something a naturally narcissistic entertainer is prone to. This is a couple that seemingly lives and breathes for one another while still operating as individuals. In relationships where there’s a “star of the family”, the other person’s needs always take a hit.
6. YOU GENUINELY RESPECT EACH OTHER
We’ve all dated someone who was great but struggling to make their dreams happen. In your 20s, especially in cities like New York or LA, it’s practically a rite of passage to date an aspiring musician who busses tables by day or a writer who picks up a meaningless check doing social media outreach. Dating someone aspirational/in transition is no big deal… if you believe in his or her talent. Not in that, “Yeah, I mean, his music’s not for me but it’s okay,” kind of way. It should be more like, “I’m not worried about his future because he’s truly genius and with the way he hustles, it’s only a matter of time until something big happens.” If you do not have a fundamental respect for what your partner does and a true belief in their talent, you will start to resent him or her. Then you’ll feel guilty for resenting them, keep trying to make it work, realize that you not only don’t respect them, you actually cannot make it work with someone whose taste and style makes you cringe.